Work with your space (topography, sun exposure and soil). Group drought tolerant plants in areas with full day sun; give less tolerant plants some partial shade and keep the more delicate or demanding plants for a spot near your water source or an area that may be wetter due to run-off and topography.
Preparing the soil in advance will help plants get established and provide good nutrients as the landscape matures. You want to have 12 inches of topsoil. Adding screened loam and incorporating organic matter will improve water penetration and retention in any type of soil. Rich, loose, water holding soil will encourage good root development and lessen the plant’s need for supplemental water. Homes in newer areas already have 12 inches of top soil installed on properties.
Selecting plants that thrive in our area during dry periods will give you the best results. This often includes native plants but can include non-native species. Drought tolerant plants can be aggressive so be careful about invasive tendencies which can create maintenance problems or threaten native ecosystems.
Mulch is created naturally by leaves dropping and plants dying. Try to leave naturally occurring mulch on the soil or use other mulches like leaves, grass clippings, straw or decomposed bark mulch. Mulch moderates soil temperature, holds moisture, slows erosion and suppresses weeds that would compete with your plants for food and water. Apply about 2-3 inches of mulch at the initial planting and replenish annually or as needed. Be careful not to cover the base of the trunk on trees and shrubs to avoid decay and rodent problems.
You should determine how much lawn should be part of your initial design plan, taking into consideration what you plan to use your lawn for. Assess the amounts of sun, moisture and traffic to determine the appropriate grass mix. Note that there are many different drought tolerant grass seed mixes on the market that yield a beautiful lawn.
Not all plants need the same amount of water. If only a few plants require water, hand watering may be an effective means. Root-zone irrigation systems on or under the soil are often the most efficient. Water is released at slower rates encouraging the water and roots to go deeper into the soil. This helps plants withstand dry periods as the roots are down where evaporation rates are slower. Root zone systems also have fewer losses to wind and evaporation. If watering above the soil, use sprinklers that distribute large droplets low to the ground. Manually watering with soaker hoses or a slow trickle from the end of the hose is also effective. Avoid watering during hot, dry, windy periods of the day and water in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler. Water based on the needs of the plants and follow the Town of Okotoks watering schedule. Water infrequently at a slow rate to encourage deeply rooted plants.
Note that even drought tolerant plants will need sufficient watering until they get established. Small plants may establish in a year of two but large nursery grown trees may need three to five years to properly establish themselves.
Realize that xeriscape gardening will require some maintenance. Weeding, pruning, deadheading, and some watering will be necessary. The purpose of xeriscaping is primarily to conserve water and once plants are established they may require little or no maintenance. To minimize turf watering and fertilizing, leave turf grasses a minimum of 3 inches in height and leave the clippings to help conserve moisture and provide nutrients back to the soil. In the design phase, select plants that will not out grow their space. This will minimize excessive pruning and unnecessary maintenance which can be stressful to plants.